Top 10 Albums of 1989
1989 was the Year of the Classic Rock Comeback. While the Billboard charts in 1989 were dominated by boy bands, pop singers, and watered down R&B, stalwarts of the ’60s and ’70s like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones were resurrecting their careers. Find out where they rank on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1989:
As ‘The Miracle‘ was recorded, Queen guitarist Brian May struggled through marital problems and singer Freddie Mercury learned he had AIDS (which was then known to his bandmates, if not the public). You can hear a bit of a bitter edge on some cuts; at the other side of the spectrum is the title track, a gorgeously ornate tribute to the miraculous things happening all around us every day.
‘Flowers in the Dirt’
Some say Paul McCartney‘s songwriting hasn’t been the same since it bounced against John Lennon‘s more sardonic worldview. On ‘Flowers in the Dirt,’ McCartney found a similar musical counterpoint in Elvis Costello (see No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1989). He co-writes four songs on ‘Flowers in the Dirt’ including the hit single ‘My Brave Face.’ Although the production suffers from a turgid late-eighties sound, the songs ring true, especially the collaborations with Costello.
‘Storm Front,’ Billy Joel‘s entry on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1989, hasn’t quite left the cultural consciousness since its release. Songs like ‘I Go to Extremes’ and ‘The Downeaster Alexa’ remain staples of adult-contemporary radio even today, and a comedian can still score a few laughs with a parody of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ It’s hard to believe it’s the next to last album we’d hear from the Piano Man.
A sprawling, messy minor masterpiece, Neil Young‘s ‘Freedom‘ was his second record for Reprise after returning to the label with 1988’s ‘This Note’s for You.’ While that record’s title track inspired a video that was banned then celebrated by MTV, there were no video extracts on ‘Freedom.’ Instead, this finds Young exploring the fringes and deepest recesses of his own abilities — creating ‘Rockin’ in the Free World‘ which still stands as one of rock’s greatest political screeds, along the way.
Having survived a pair of solo albums and a vicious war of words, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards decided to bury the hatchet with their first new Rolling Stones album in three years, ‘Steel Wheels.’ This time, all the dated digital trickery of their previous ’80s efforts was left behind in favor of straight-ahead blues-based rock. If this item on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1989 doesn’t cling to the ribs as tightly as other Stones records might, it at least brought the band back together for a solid set of new music.
‘Spike‘ marked a point of departure for Elvis Costello. As his first album for new label Warner Brothers, he was afforded the budget to essentially set up four different backing combos in locations as far afield as New Orleans and Dublin. He’s since explained in interviews that he had five different albums in mind, and decided to make them all. The result is a true widescreen pop record with departures into folk and Irish balladry. The album’s hit single ‘Veronica’ is a co-write with Paul McCartney, who also plays bass on the track. It became Costello’s highest-charting U.S. single.
‘Mystery Girl‘ should have been a well-deserved victory lap for Roy Orbison. At age 52, he had just begun an unlikely career resurgence thanks to the success of the first Traveling Wilburys album, released in 1988. Unfortunately, as work continued on ‘Mystery Girl,’ he suffered a heart attack and died. Completed in the weeks after Orbison’s death, the album instead serves as a fitting final statement from the master balladeer and rocker — highlighted by his magnificent final Top 10 single, ‘You Got It.’
This decade had not been kind to Bob Dylan; then again, neither were the late ’70s. After a detour into born-again Christianity, he spent most of ’80s releasing uninspired albums that dabbled in the contemporary sounds of the era, instantly rendering them dated. The 1989 effort ‘Oh Mercy‘ brought him together for the first time with producer Daniel Lanois, who accentuated some of Dylan’s strongest songwriting in years with a dark, murky, beautiful sound. Dylan and Lanois would reunite for a second record, 1997’s ‘Time Out Of Mind,’ which was even better.
Rather than a comeback record, ‘Pump‘ is a continuation of a comeback already in progress. Ignited by 1987’s ‘Permanent Vacation,’ Aerosmith‘s ‘Pump’ saw the band again working with producer Bruce Fairbairn and with songwriters Desmond Child and Jim Vallance. The results spoke for themselves, with three Top 10 singles and their first Grammy award, for ‘Janie’s Got a Gun.’
‘Full Moon Fever’
After cutting albums with the Heartbreakers for more than a decade, ‘Full Moon Fever‘ is hardly a “debut” effort from Tom Petty, but it does represent his first solo album. A close collaboration with Jeff Lynne who co-produced and co-wrote most of the tracks, there’s still plenty of Heartbreaker presence: The entire effort was cut in guitarist Mike Campbell‘s garage studio. With monster singles like ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and the omnipresent ‘Free Fallin’,’ the top finisher on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1989 redefined the rocker for a new generation of fans and cracked open the next chapter in his career.